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Traffic alert: Market Street in Wilmington to close for removal of old, sick oak trees

To facilitate the safe removal of the large trees, there will be a full closure of Market Street around where crews are working.

Gareth McGrath
USA TODAY NETWORK

The ax is finally coming down on a slew of mature, but sick oak trees along Market Street near some of Wilmington's most historic neighborhoods.

Crews plan to start removing the first of 18 large trees on Monday, June 10, with the work on chopping down most of the majestic oaks taking place between 17th and 21st streets on Market Street before moving down to the stretch of roadway between 12th and 16th streets.

"It's going to look dramatic at first, but we ask that you bear with us," said Sally Thigpen, the city's assistant director of community services, Friday morning.

Why are the trees coming down?

For decades, the mature oak trees have formed part of the "green" entrance to downtown Wilmington. But a combination of age, disease, climate change, pollution and stress from nearly 43,000 vehicles a day whizzing along Market Street has taken a toll on the mostly laurel oaks.

City officials have said the trees have become public safety hazards. The primary defect is heart rot, an untreatable fungal听disease听that causes the decay听of听wood. That can increase the chance of cracked trunks and falling limbs, especially during strong winds and rains.

The work is part of a larger city project to remove more than 80 sick and aging street trees and grind down nearly 40 stumps over the coming weeks.

A roughly 15-year-old live oak stands in front of a mature laurel oak, slated for removal, that probably dates back to around World War II. The historic Market Street corridor is going to look a lot different after 18 old and sick oak trees are removed next week.

What will the project encompass?

To facilitate the safe removal of the large trees, there will be a full closure of Market Street around where crews are working.

The road closure is expected to start at 9 a.m. on Monday before moving to 7 a.m. on subsequent days. Market is expected to reopen before the busiest part of the evening rush hour.

A detour using state roads, including Princess Place and 16th and 17th streets, will be put into place.

CHOPPED DOWN:Mature oaks have lined Wilmington's Market Street for decades. Now they face the ax.

What comes next?

Thigpen said the old trees will be replaced with saplings consisting of a number of species, but will mostly be sturdy live oaks. That's to prevent the trees from all aging out at the same time, as has happened along Market Street, and leave them less vulnerable to disease or an insect outbreak that's focused on a single or few tree species.

Dan Camacho, executive director of the , said the loss of the majestic canopy trees that have lined Market for decades is a tough pill to swallow 鈭 and one that his organization was initially against. But he said it's time, and feels the city has a good plan to mitigate the trees' loss for generations to come.

"We're not happy about the trees coming down, but we understand why they have to come down," Camacho said.

Reporter Gareth McGrath can be reached at GMcGrath@Gannett.com or @GarethMcGrathSN on X/Twitter. This story was produced with financial support from the Green South Foundation and the Prentice Foundation. The USA TODAY Network maintains full editorial control of the work.